Welcome back to another edition of i80 Sports Toll booth- the best place on the web for Major League Soccer Sportsbook Picks!
Match- Atlanta United host Austin FC
Pick- Austin FC +260
This season’s big surprise should be the collective teams from Texas; after finishing bottom 3 in the Western Conference last season, we see Austin FC and Dallas currently safely in playoff position. With a lot of play left in the MLS season, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Houston joins them in extra play this fall.
Austin, in particular, lead the league with 35 goals scored (tied with LAFC) and have a surprising +13 goal differential only 18 games into the MLS season. They can SCORE and their defense is much improved- a recipe for success in Major League Soccer. In particular, I am surprised with Sebastian Driussi (10 goals and 3 assists) making a serious case for MVP if the season sees them as Shield contenders.
Austin FC lead the league in goals, and it is because of their shot QUALITY not their shot QUANTITY. Their key stats include their .15 goals per shot AND their .48 goals per shot on target, both of which lead the league (and it is not particularly close).
While Atlanta has been good at keeping the number of shots allowed down, they have been league-worst allowing .44 goals per shot on target. In short- when teams open up and take quality shots, they are scored on more than any other team in the league.
Key to the Match-
I will let MLSsoccer.com say it best for me. From a blurb under the match information
“Atlanta United has won two of its last 12 MLS matches (D4 L6), with both wins coming over teams currently outside the playoffs. In fact, all five of Atlanta United’s victories in 2022 have come over teams that would miss the postseason if the season ended now.”
Match- Charlotte FC host Nashville SC
Pick- Nashville SC +210
Okay, I get it. Charlotte is good at home. Their 2 points per game in Charlotte and 6-0-3 home record ranks fifth-best in MLS. When we dig deeper, however, we can see that the ONLY home team they beat with a winning record was the New York Red Bulls.
At 7-6-5 Nashville is the only team Charlotte will host with a winning record between now and September 10th when they host NYCFC! To make things a touch trickier, Nashville is in equal form regardless of where they play; their Western Conference move has added some chaos to their schedule this season.
Key to the Match-
The best two players on the field will both be wearing yellow this weekend- Hany Mukhtar and Walker Zimmerman both match up well against Charlotte; Mukhtar for his long shot ability and skill on the ball, and Zimmerman for his defensive prowess and skill in the air.
This should be seen as what it is- a rivalry matchup against teams close in proximity but playing in different divisions. As such, this game has some volatility but at +210 Nashville stands out as a great upset pick on the clearly better team.
Match- Chicago Fire FC host Columbus Crew
Pick- Columbus Crew +240
I will start this off with a fun fact- of the 7 Eastern Conference teams currently in playoff positions, three (Montreal, Cincinnati, Orlando) currently have negative goal differentials. Another interesting stat- of the 14 teams in MLS currently outside a playoff spot, only the Columbus Crew at +2 have a POSITIVE goal differential. They are my top team to have a second-half breakout (with the help of new signing Cucho) and I think that begins this week.
Chicago Fire are 3-3-2 at home this season, with two of those wins coming in their last two home matches- hosting DC United and Philadelphia. That mini-streak ended a 11 game winless streak which included a 5 game losing streak.
Key to the Match-
Only 2 players on Chicago have multiple goals this season- Kacper Przybylko and Xherdan Shaqiri, both with 3. Chicago has been struggling all season on the offensive side of the ball, and I expect this matchup vs Columbus to be no different; Crew are allowing a stingy 18 goals against in 17 matches.
While the Columbus Crew expect record signing Cucho Hernandez to be on the matchday roster, whether or not he sees the field is still in question. This Crew roster still has some bite- with Lucas Zelarayan and Derrick Etienne leading the offensive charge. I expect their counter attack to be in fine form, and should run the error-prone Fire defense out of town.
Match- Real Salt Lake host Colorado Rapids
Pick- Real Salt Lake -115
I had to go with at least one home team this week, so why not take the team who leads MLS with the greatest home field advantage this season? RSL has an astounding 2.5 points per game at home, mostly because of the geographical advantage of playing at altitude in Rio Tinto Stadium.
While that advantage won’t play out for the same reasons against Colorado Rapids, RSL has been spectacular at home in this matchup. RSL is 15-5-1 the last 21 times they hosted Colorado.
Colorado has had trouble finding finishing outside of Diego Rubio, as their supporting cast of characters have been disappointing. Gyasi Zardes has proven to be a shell of his former self, scoring only 1 time in his 670 minutes for Colorado this season. Disruptor Mark-Anthony Kaye has also been a touch disappointing for me, leading me to think keeping Kellyn Acosta would have been better for the Rapids.
Key to the Match-
RSL heads into this match at 8-5-5 sitting 3rd in the Western Conference. They have amassed strong team play without any superstars but with plenty of skilled role players. They will force Colorado to match their tempo and width, and think they will control most of the match.
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